Henry Ford, it is said, commissioned a survey of the car scrap yards of America to find out if there were parts of the Model T Ford which never failed. His inspectors came back with reports of almost every kind of breakdown: axles, brakes, pistons -- all were liable to go wrong. But they drew attention to one notable exception, the kingpins of the scrapped cars invariably had years of life left in them. With ruthless logic Ford concluded that the kingpins on the Model T were too good for their job and ordered that in future they should be made to an inferior specification.
For the automotively challenged, the kingpin is the main pivot in the steering mechanism of a car or other vehicle. Originally this was literally a steel pin on which the moveable, steerable wheel was mounted to the suspension. It is usually made out of metal.
This story, well-known on the internet, was originally told by Nicholas Humphrey in 1976, and often referred to by other biologists including Jared Diamond and Richard Dawkins, the latter recounting the story in what is, by far, the most pessimistic chapter ("God's Utility Function") in his book River Out of Eden.
John Hawks, who has an interesting anthropology weblog takes a look at the Henry Ford story, and why evolutionary biologists seem to love it so:
Of course, the truth is natural selection doesn't cut back the quality of functional parts easily, either. Selection also has to overcome fixed costs in order to change populations: costs stemming from pleiotropy, epistasis, and coevolution with other kinds of organisms (e.g. predator-prey relationships, mutualisms, and mimicry). How much selective advantage can come from reducing femur diameter a smidgeon? It can't be very much, and it might easily be outweighed by the manifold costs of changing osteoblast function to accomplish it. In other words, adaptation is constrained by the same sorts of problems that constrain industry. Ruthless efficiency can rarely be maintained in biology or in manufacturing.
But then again, was the story even true?
Barbara Mikkelson over at the Urban Legends website thinks not, but offers an additional insight:
Though the legend is almost always positioned as a "let's screw the consumers" tale, on rare occasion it has been presented as an example of intelligent design."*
It all reminds me of the Edward de Bono books I read as a kid.
* She includes a similar type of anecdote about another engineering triumph, from WWII:
"A proposal was made to armour bombers in the places where the returning planes showed most damage from anti-aircraft fire. One young analyst suggested that instead, the planes should be armoured where the returning bombers showed no damage. He inferred that the planes that did not return were being damaged in the places that the returning planes were not. His suggestion was implemented and an X% reduction in lost planes resulted."
You are a collection of cells (literally trillions of them), each with a specific design and function. However, with a few exceptions, your cells all have a basic architectural design. Most of the time they are depicted as looking like a fried egg cooked sunny side up, but in reality they are three dimensional beings, more akin to a golf ball that you’ve cut across its midline. The “white” of our cell model is the body of the cell, and here are found many specialized areas called organelles that do particular jobs, much like our own internal organs have specific jobs as well. The “yolk” of our cell model is called the nucleus, and in this compartment there lies the object of our affections, the chromosomes.
Chromosomes were first discovered at the end of the 19th century by a German biologist named Walther Flemming. Flemming was looking at cells under a microscope and got the idea to use colors to dye the cell to make it easier to see things. The idea must have worked better than anticipated since he at once began to see spaghetti looking things in the nucleus that dyed a very deep color. As is the fashion, he named these entities chromosomes which is Greek for “colored bodies”.
Chromosomes are one of the more dynamic faces of Nature; they have to be, since they are responsible for the passing on of the 'Baton of Life' that we call reproduction. The number of chromosome in the cell nucleus differs somewhat from species to species. We humans have 46 chromosomes; dogs have 78; alligators 32; cabbage plants 18.
Your chromosomes are both the governess and chauffeur of the most important molecule in your body: DNA --which is actually two molecules wrapped around each other. Like any blueprint, DNA needs to be read in order for the work order to be constructed. Now, DNA is a long, long molecule. If it were completely unraveled it would be about six feet long, yet so thin that it would be invisible, since you can easily fit one million cells on the head of a pin. If the entire DNA, in every cell of your body, was stretched out and laid end-to-end in a straight line, it would reach to the sun and back over one thousand times.
I think an effective way of describing the dynamic qualities of the chromosome is to use a few metaphors. My older daughter likes to knit, so we often visit the knitting supply shop in town for fresh yarn. Yarn usually comes wrapped in skeins, a length of yarn wound around a reel. Most yarn comes in lengths of 80-150 yards. One of the nice things about buying yarn this way, rather than just as one long unwound string, is that you can put it under your arm and walk to the car. This is certainly better than tying a knot to the rear bumper and pulled the unwound string all the way home. Thus, the first important lesion of chromosome dynamics; if you’re going to reproduce you’ve got to stuff that entire DNA into a very small, tight package. Chromosomes are just that: tight packages of DNA.
On the other hand, it is very difficult, if not downright impossible to knit anything if the skein of yarn still has the paper label wrapped around it. In order to use the yarn, you have to unwind it. That’s the formula: when the cell needs to use DNA to get information about how to make a protein, it has to unwind it. When it needs to reproduce, or turn off the DNA information flow, it needs to concentrate and condense it.
How this occurs is rather wondrous, and will be the subject of much discussion later on when we talk about how you can modify your genetic destiny, but for now we’ll just stick to the basics. DNA is packaged and concentrated by special proteins termed histones. This concentrated DNA is called chromatin, which is the DNA plus the histones that package DNA within the cell nucleus. Chromatin structure is also relevant to DNA replication and DNA repair.
Histones are very cool bead-like proteins that spool the DNA in a way that makes it either tighter or looser, sort of like the cardboard around which our skein of yarn is wrapped. Histones respond to changes in their structure by tightening the DNA wrap or loosening it. Whenever a cell needs to access the genetic information encoded in its DNA, the histones on the section of the DNA that is needed undergo a chemical reaction called acetylation by which a molecule called an acetyl group is stuck on the histones, causing them to relax and unravel. When business is concluded for the day, special enzymes come along and chomp off the acetyl group cause the histones to become de-acetylated, which makes them tighten up again, sending the DNA in the region back to its resting state. Think of it like this; when your DNA needs to work its histones chow down on acetyl groups for breakfast and they do yoga; when it needs to reproduce or shut down, the histones lift weights --the strain of which causes the acetyl group to pop out of their mouths.
Make sure that you’ve mastered the last paragraph, because much of the very cool stuff dealing with how you can modify gene functions pretty much requires that you know this stuff. By the way, this is very, very cutting edge material; only until recent times have we understood this mechanism, and of supremely paramount importance, that it is used by the environment to influence gene function and that influence, for either good or bad, can be passed on as inheritance.
Scientists have given each human chromosome a number, according to its size; thus chromosome number 1 is the largest, then number 2, etc. Chromosomes come in pairs, one from each parent. So there are 23 pairs, for a total of 46 in us humans. Numbers 1-22 are non-sex chromosomes called autosomes, and pair 23 contains the X and Y sex chromosomes.
In the few minutes it has taken to read up to here, this, around 400 million of your red blood cells were depleted and replaced, consistent with the set of genetic instructions contained in your DNA.
QUESTION: I am a type A and have been trying to incorporate more of the recommended grains. I purchased amaranth and cooked as described however, it turned into a slimy goo. Is this the way it is supposed to be?
ANSWER: Amaranth is a broad-leafed plant which produces multi-headed flowerets containing grain-like seed of extremely high nutritional value. The tiny seeds are a creamy tan in color and are about 1/32" in diameter. Each plant produces 40,000-60,000 seeds. The amaranth seeds are used in their whole grain form, milled into flour or puffed into miniature kernels.
For centuries, the Aztecs and American Indians have known the benefits and diverse uses for amaranth.
Not only is amaranth higher in protein than most commonly used grains, that protein, containing high levels of lysine and methionine, is better balanced and more complete. Amaranth, with 13-19% protein, scores closer to a perfect 100 on a theoretical protein score chart than do other grains. For example, amaranth's 75 is significantly higher than wheat at 56.9, corn at 44, soybeans at 68 or even cow's milk at 72.5.
Amaranth possesses a potent lectin that has been shown to identify colon cancer cells which are in the early stages of mutation.(1) As such a diet high in amaranth may well be protective against this common cancer, which is known to have a significantly higher incidence in blood group A.
Here's a great recipe that uses amaranth flour to make a grain free bread:
Grain-Free Boston Brown Bread
Yield: 1 loaf
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons amaranth flour 1/4 cup arrowroot 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger 1/2 cup currants 1/2 cup walnuts 3/4 cup boiling unsweetened fruit juice or water 1/4 cup honey or molasses 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Generously oil a 1-quart mold or 1 pound coffee can. Fill a Dutch oven or stockpot with about 5 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil while you prepare the batter.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, arrowroot, baking soda and ginger. Stir in the currants.
In a blender, grind the walnuts to a fine powder. Add the juice or water, and blend 20 seconds. If the ingredients in the blender don't reach the 1 -cup mark, add a little more liquid. With the blender running on low, add the honey or molasses and lemon juice.
Pour the liquid mixture into the flour bowl. Stir quickly to blend; do not overmix. Transfer to the prepared mold orcan. Cover with a square of foil or wax paper; tie the wax paper securely with a piece of string.
Place the mold in the boiling water. (It should come halfway up the sides.) Cover the pot tightly, and steam for 2 hours over medium-low heat. Do not remove the cover during that time.
Remove the mold from the pot. Cool the bread in the mold for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. For the best results, cut with a serated knife with a gentle sawing motion.
Variations: Replace the honey or molasses with 1/3 cup maple syrup. Instead of the currants, use dried unsweetened pineapple, apples, prunes or ther dried fruit; use the corresponding juice as the liquid.
(1)Boland CR, Chen YF, Rinderle SJ, Resau JH, Luk GD, Lynch HT. Use of the lectin from Amaranthus caudatus as a histochemical probe of proliferating colonic epithelial cells. Cancer Res. 1991 Jan 15;51(2):657-65.
The year 1956 stands out in my mind for a variety of reasons, the most important being (at least for me) that it was the year I was born. It also marked the year of the only ‘perfect game’ even thrown in a baseball World Series. Music fans might remember that it was the year that Elvis Presley entered the United States music charts for the first time, with 'Heartbreak Hotel.'
1956 was also the year a scientist named Roger Williams published a book called Biochemical Individuality, which attempted to relate inherited individual distinctions to nutritional requirements. Although Williams was no small figure in medicine (at the University of Austin he had discovered pantothenic acid, one of the critical B vitamins, and had published skews of articles detailing some of the most basic biochemical discoveries) Biochemical Individuality attracted little, if any attention from the medical community, probably due to the fact, as Jeffrey Bland speculates in his book Genetic Nutritioneering, Williams expressed many of his ideas in biochemical terms, which doctors of the time were far less comfortable with compared with today.
How prescient is the following phrase:
“The existence in every human being of a vast array of attributes which are potentially measurable (whether by present methods or not), and often uncorrelated mathematically, makes quite tenable the hypothesis that practically every human being is a deviate in some respects.”
It’s a strange choice of words, but the word deviate in this context signifies a turning away from the normal or a variance of some sort. Of course, we tend to think of the word more as a term for individuals who deviate from some sort of social norm; but norms are norms.
Williams was certainly deviating from conventional medical wisdom. Nobody at the time was looking at peculiar and individual aspects of nutrition that might be predicted genetically. More importantly, in 1956 there wasn’t anywhere near the enormous genetic industry and technology that exists today; it had only been three years before that James Watson and Francis Crick deduced the basic structure of DNA, (Deoxyribonucleic acid) –the double helix-- that contains the genetic instructions specifying the biological development of all cellular forms of life.
Thus when Williams talked of “attributes that are potentially measurable (by present methods or not)” he is taking an amazingly huge step into the future.
So Williams’ phrase “often uncorrelated mathematically” should probably be reinterpreted to mean “we can’t see the connections because of our current puny computational abilities.” Nowadays we link supercomputers together into vast neural networks and process data at a speed and accuracy that just boggles the mind. It was just this type of muscular computing that allowed scientists like Craig Venter and his firm Celera Genomics to help crack the human genome in record time. Today, the combination of gene sequencing and supercomputers is a day to day event in hundreds of laboratories worldwide, and is a prime part of a vast new field called bioinformatics.
In 1956, nutrition science was still in its infancy, concerned mostly with deficiency types of diseases such as pellagra and anemia, and making sure that we all ate “balanced meals.” There was no link between diet and cholesterol or between cholesterol and hardening of the arteries and medical journals often featured cigarette ads on their back pages. Ulcers were often treated by telling the patient to drink copious amounts of milk, the so-called “sippy-diet.” In other words, nutritional thinking at the time was predominantly disease-based, which is odd, since almost everything we do with food has absolutely nothing to do with disease. This resulted in what my friend and colleague Jonathan Wright used to call "The Association Diets.'
This is not to say that pieces of the puzzle weren’t evident, or that intelligent people were not already beginning to ask the right questions. It’s just that the questions could only be based on what was thought to be known, and what was known was not very much.
I can remember taking a computer class in high school (already well into the 1960’s) where we were taught to diligently inscribe a series punch cards with a 'number 2' pencil, which were then collated and fed to a machine the size of a large refrigerator, which then hacked and coughed for a while, finally yielding a half page printout of a list of fifty prime numbers.
Unless, of course, you had the misfortune to have penciled in the wrong box, in which case you just started all over again; a frustrating experience, which lead to one of my young colleagues, in a rage of frustration, placing one of the cards on the floor and proceeding to stomp on it repeatedly with his shoed foot, sending it on to the card reader --and probably producing the first computer virus-- a trick many of us would repeat when similarly frustrated. Your home computer can do these functions in micro-seconds, and the software to do it is considered so basic that it is usually packaged for free with the operating system.
I've spent the beginning of this New Year cleaning up the various sites that I administer. In finishing up work on the genomic wiki-like knowledge base that we built several years ago, I thought it might be helpful to suggest 25 of what I feel are the best articles on The Individualist.
These are not exactly 'consumer level' stuff; more likely it would be called 'pro-sumer level' and I recommend these articles for those die-hards who just have to know everything. If you are still trying to figure out what to do with spelt, tofu or agave syrup, you may want to wait a while before tackling them.
- ABH Antigens
- A-like Tumor Antigens
- ABO Blood Group
- ABO and Secretor Genetics
- Blood and Anthropology
- Biology of Carbohydrates
- Chromosome 9q34
- Disease and Blood Groups
- Founder Effect
- Genes and Environment
- Joseph Charles Aub
- Lamarckism Revisited
- Lectins Resist Digestion
- Lectins and the Intestines
- DNA Methylation
- Phenotypic Plasticity
- Secretor Status
- Stress Blood Groups